Two days after a multi-train collision in Odisha’s Balasore district, relatives continued to frenetically search for the remains of their loved ones among the bodies stacked at hospitals, the accident site and makeshift mortuaries.
On June 4, the Odisha government put the death toll at 275, lower than the 288 declared on June 3, saying that some bodies had been counted twice.
Briefing the media on the issue of the death toll, Chief Secretary Pradeep Kumar Jena said, “The Indian Railway had informed the death toll at 288 and we had also circulated the same on Saturday. Since yesterday night (Saturday), the Balasore district magistrate and his entire officers, have conducted diligent counting of each dead body again by taking bodies recovered from the track, hospital and two makeshift assembly points into account. They have found that a few dead bodies have been reported twice. After weeding out those duplicates, the collector has formally informed that final death-toll is 275 instead of 288 by 10 am,” said Chief Secretary Pradeep Jena.
Only 88 bodies identified
“The double count had taken place due to a flurry of activities and a stressed environment. Out of 275 bodies, 88 bodies have been identified and handed over to their relatives. Of the rest 187 bodies, 170 bodies have been shifted to Bhubaneswar,” said Mr. Jena.
Altogether 1,175 injured persons have been referred to different hospitals and 793 had been discharged from hospitals.
“Regarding, unidentified bodies, we have hosted photographs of those on the websites of the Odisha Special Relief Commissioner, Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation and Odisha State Disaster Management Authority. The photographs should not be used other than for identification purpose,” he said.
A desperate search
Though Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw declared that the rescue operation was over on Saturday, body parts continued to be discovered amidst the debris. On Sunday, five mutilated bodies were retrieved from under the wrecked coaches of the Coromandel Express and the Yeshwantpur-Howrah Express, which were being cleared from the track so that restoration work can begin.
Emotional relatives refused to leave the accident site without their loved ones. The fetid smell of decomposing and dismembered bodies at the Bahanaga High School — where the remains are being kept after retrieval from the accident site — did not prevent 25-year-old Mithun Kumar from attempting to remove the white cloth covering the five bodies found on Sunday. A resident of Sonadiha village of Bihar’s Purnia district, Mr. Kumar was seeking the remains of his 22-year-old brother Lalit Kumar, but his determination was fast turning into despair.
He drew solace from the fact that his other brother Babu Saheb, who was also travelling on the Coromandel Express with Lalit, survived the crash with injuries. “I managed to talk over the phone to my younger brother, who is admitted to the hospital. But I have not physically met him at a time when he had survived one of the biggest tragedies of his life,” Mr. Kumar said.
‘Bodies beyond recognition’
Fatima Bibi, a 40-year-old resident of Kolkata, was inconsolable at Bahanaga High School. Desperate to find her missing 20-year-old son who had been travelling on the Coromandel Express, she first went to the accident site without much success and then rushed back to the school. Five of her family members had accompanied her from Kolkata and were seen furiously chasing away hordes of journalists trying to capture her agony as she sought the body of her son.
Bijay Patnaik, an Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police, guarding freshly retrieved bodies at the school said, “Distressed relatives keep coming to school to have a look at the face of corpse, ornament and wallet. As the bodies were beyond recognition, they return with desolate looks. I can stay guard under the scorching heat for 10 hours for crowd control, but spending one hour here and encountering parents and brother who are going through excruciating personal pain, is a difficult affair.”
Preserving the dead
The campus of the North Orissa Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Balasore — where identified bodies are being temporarily kept so they can be handed over to relatives — was overflowing with people from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha.
About 100 unclaimed bodies have been sent to AIIMS, Bhubaneswar for preservation. Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Sunday interacted with senior doctors and officials there, and discussed the procedures being undertaken to embalm the dead bodies and hand them over to the family members of the deceased.